Students Inquire About Pandemic’s Environmental Impact

Students Inquire About Pandemic’s Environmental Impact

Max Shannon '24, Guest Writer

Amidst the ongoing pandemic, Dickinsonians have raised questions about its impact on the climate and environmental sustainability. Lindsey Lyons, assistant director at Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education (CSE), said that there has “absolutely” been a noticeable difference concerning sustainability. 

Lyons said that despite the excessive use of disposable items, she estimates that “waste is less than 1% of the total footprint,” of the college’s own output, and that although she has seen “masks and gloves in parking lots, we have seen less of every other form of waste.”

Jackie Greger ‘22, CSE outreach intern, has noticed certain downsides of the pandemic. “For the sake of contamination, people have used more disposable bottles and harmful one-use plastics.” She indicated that this, along with the constant use of disposable masks, has been an issue.

Both Greger and Behavior Change Intern Ariel Levin-Antila ‘21 emphasized the importance of buying reusable masks and “taking a reusable garden glove and then washing it when you get home” said Levin-Antila. 

CSE is also promoting an initiative for students who want to make a difference from home, said Levin-Antila and Lyons. The initiative consists of five steps every student can take part in, including walking, biking and ridesharing, reducing food waste, building a plant-rich diet, purchasing consciously, and turning off lights and unplugging them, according to the CSE website.

All of these are important ways that students can make a difference from home, “It’s important to practice these behaviors, no matter where you are,” said Lyons.

Lyons also noted that most of this is anecdotal evidence and that hard data from the pandemic will not be available until Jul. 1, 2021. However, from the data already collected and processed for the first few months of the pandemic, “we saw a decrease in waste and utilities through March, April, May, and June.” This data has not yet been made ready to release according to Lyons.

Lyons stressed that while most of the evidence so far is anecdotal, it seems clear that the pandemic will nevertheless have a huge impact on Dickinson’s output of carbon emissions. For instance, according to the CSE’s 2019 yearly report, air travel for Dickinson’s study abroad program makes up 11.9% of the college’s yearly carbon emissions, while faculty and staff commuting makes up 7% of emissions. This makes up nearly a fifth of the college’s annual emissions.

Lyons did caution that since “we can’t assume that everyone will not be commuting to work,” the numbers for commuting will likely fluctuate. That being said, “reduced study abroad, utilities, waste generation, and commuting,” will significantly lower emissions, she said.

Dickinson, which became a carbon neutral school this year, is currently in the process of creating a plan to maintain its current status. Lyons said “we’re really proud to be carbon neutral,” but expressed that there is still much work to do, especially maintaining what the college has created up to now, once students return to campus. 

As it currently stands, the plan released by the President’s Commision for Environmental Sustainability, outlines a goal to reach 50% reduction in emissions by 2025, and 75% by 2030. A detailed plan has yet to be released on how the school will achieve these goals.

In the coming months, the CSE will be hosting multiple new events through People | Planet | Prosperity: Skills for Change (PPP), an initiative “where everyone can come together and learn” about sustainability, said Levin-Antila. For more information, follow the CSE at @CSE_dickinson on Instagram for updates.